Ashley, known as "Miss Ashley" around Amigos, is in her second year of service as an Amigos de Jesús volunteer. A person of many talents, Ashley has found herself working in many jobs over the last two years, including English and religion teacher, social media coordinator, sponsor letter coordinator, and much more! Her deep understanding of the Spanish language has also made her an unofficial translator. More than anything though, it's Ashley's positive attitude and outgoing and attentive personality that make such an impact. When not tirelessly working in one of her many jobs, Ashley can be found outside talking to the children and staff, helping with homework, or listening to music with the kids. We are so thankful for all of the energy, love, commitment, and enthusiasm that Ashley has brought to our family!
Read more about Ashley in her interview below:
- Age: 24
- Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
- University: Marquette University
- Majors/Minors: Public Relations and Spanish with a minor in Human Resources
- What have been your roles at Amigos during your time here?
Last year, my main roles were teaching English and valores (religion) classes at the Amigos de Jesús School, as well as working on social media and communications for Amigos. This year, I am continuing to work on social media and teach one class of English, while also organizing the child sponsorship program on the Honduras side, helping our home psychologist with case management for the kids, helping lead an extracurricular choir class, and helping with after school tutoring for our older kids in middle school and high school.
Of course, all of this comes behind the biggest role that I get to share with all of the adults at Amigos -- being part of giving and receiving love with the 120 kids and teenagers who make up the Amigos family!
- How did you first hear about Amigos de Jesús?
I first heard about Amigos during my senior year of college from a friend who went to a service fair at Marquette. The opportunities Amigos provided to combine my Catholic faith, Spanish skills, love for children, and interest in social justice felt like a perfect fit.
Later, I found out that another recent Marquette graduate who was a friend of a friend (Emily Pettinger, who is now the Director of Development in the U.S. office), had just finished her term of service as a long term volunteer at Amigos. She patiently answered all of my questions and convinced me to apply in the end.
- What were you doing before you came to Amigos de Jesús?
Prior to coming to Amigos, I was finishing up my senior year of college, balancing school, friends and family, work, and extracurricular activities. I had also recently returned from studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, which is where I first began thinking about working internationally after graduation. In January of my senior year, I participated in a week-long service trip to a children's home in Haiti, where the children there led me to consider specifically working with children in a Spanish speaking country.
- What made you decide to stay a second year?
Wow. This is a big question. It wasn't an easy decision to stay another year away from family, friends, and life at home. But Amigos is a special place. It's almost hard to sum up in words. The type of unconditional love that exists here in the midst of the hardships of the kids' pasts and the hardships of the world outside the Amigos gates is the closest thing I have ever seen to the reality that Jesus preached -- forgiving and loving not only when it is easy, but when it is the hardest thing you have ever had to do. When I see the kids learning to love and trust more everyday, growing physically healthier and stronger with the nutrition and medical care provided here, and becoming so well educated at the Amigos School, I know on a daily basis that this organization is doing very real good. How can you ever leave that??
On a personal level, at the beginning of my volunteer term, I remember a one-year commitment seeming like a long time, but it flew by. As the end of my first year approached, I just knew that there was more learning and growing that I had left to do here, as well as more that I wanted to see the kids grow and also deepen relationships here. I feel so grateful to have been given the opportunity to spend another year with these kids and as part of this family.
- What is your favorite part of your job?
I talked a little before about Amigos fitting so many of my interests. I don't think that person was lying when they said, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." There are so many aspects about this place that I love that it's hard to narrow it down.
That being said, probably my most favorite parts of my job happen in the classroom or in one-on-one moments with the kids. When a student has an "a-ha" moment in class after not understanding something for a long time. Or when it hits me in certain moments just how much more English my students are suddenly speaking compared to when I first arrived. Or when a child feels comfortable and safe enough to open up for help.
Second to those moments with the kids, I also really enjoy the social media aspect of my job. After studying communications in college, it has been nice to be able to use what I learned in school during my time here.
- What is a favorite memory you have of your time at Amigos de Jesús?
Ah! It's impossible to pick just one memory. But I guess one that I will carry with me for a long time is this....
One of my students who I am closest with now, I struggled with for my whole first year here. He had an anger problem that was really challenging in the classroom. I soon realized in working with him that one of his trigger points for an anger outburst was when he didn't understand something. On tests and quizzes, if he didn't know an answer, I came to prepare for clenched fists or other expressions of frustration.
Flash forward to September of this school year and the first quiz in my second year of teaching him. After passing out the papers, I held my breath for his reaction. 10 minutes passed, and nothing. This was a really good start for him. Then suddenly, this student simply put his head down on his desk. Confused, I kneeled down by him to ask what was wrong. It took him a moment to bring his head up, but when he did, tears were streaming down his cheeks. He looked down at his paper and said, "No lo entiendo." "I don't understand." And then he started sobbing -- not just a little, but deep, releasing sobbing. It had been so long that I had only seen anger from him that it took me a minute to process this new emotion. Eventually, I walked him outside, and for the first time, instead of having to send him to the office for a punishment for anger, he was able to talk to the school psychologist and work through what he was really feeling. The ending to this story sounds so cliché, but it's true: Since that moment, he hasn't had a single other anger outburst in class. He went from getting sent to the office almost every week last year to not going even once anymore this year.
It all came full circle a few days ago when the kids were cleaning out their desks one day. Back in September, the day after the quiz event happened, I had written this student a letter encouraging him to continue to express his emotions the way he did. As he pulled everything out of his desk a few days ago, the note from September fell on the floor. He grabbed the letter off the floor and said, "Miss, look," in English with a shy smile on his face. Eight months later and he still had it -- a memory of the day he learned to express himself differently. Eight months later and his behavior has never gone back. I'm not really sure what to call the feeling I had for in that moment -- pride? love? joy? I think mostly just God.
That moment and others like it are to me what Amigos de Jesús is -- a place of growth and healing. They are the moments that I know God is working here, and they are the moments I won't forget.
- What is a fun fact about you? I am 5'11, so it didn't take long for the kids to bless me with the nickname jirafa (giraffe) :D